Making friends as an adult can be difficult.
Summoning one can be a disaster.
When apothecary Growina Crowe receives a witch’s grimoire as collateral, she attempts to summon an otherworldly companion. In the process, she forgets a boiling teapot, topples candles, and sets her herb garden ablaze. The next morning, a magic-eating monster besets her town, prompting a bounty hunt.
Growina fears she may be responsible, but there are only two ways to find out for sure: wait for bounty hunters to catch her, or join one of the adventuring parties. Unfortunately, she lacks the social skills to make friends, or she would never have tried to summon one.
Several cities away, actor Florian Honeybeard—unrecognizable without his feminine makeup—is mistaken for a soothsayer and accidentally kidnapped. To survive, he must improvise the role and assist a team of mercenaries. Their mission: collect the bounty on the magic-eating monster and apprehend the person responsible.
As that summary suggests, Clarke’s world building draws from many genres and traditions, a mash-up approach whose moment-to-moment fun at times lacks context and coherence. The sense of a story getting out of hand, in fact, is written into the plot. The point of view switches from Growina to that of Florian Honeybeard, a female impersonator thespian who is kidnapped by mercenaries who mistake him for a soothsayer. Coerced into guiding leader Captain Beatrix Bodkins to a fortune, Florian invents an accidentally prophetic story about a tentacled beast wreaking havoc in Wontmoil. Bodkin, riding a chair with animated monster legs, drags Florian in pursuit, along with painter Wardric, whose artwork creates in reality whatever he paints, and a ghost made of sand in a box.
These many elements also collide in a fantasy world where nearly anything can happen with few clear rules. Readers invested in traditional plotting may wander, but many inventions here engage. Growina is a sympathetic character who yearns to get out of her shell, be useful, and make friends. The bats that carry messages like carrier pigeons and excerpts from the Lazy Botanist’s Guide are bold, fun touches.
Takeaway: Wildly inventive fantasy fun, with no clear rules.
Comparable Titles: Genevieve Cogman, T. Kingfisher.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A